P-I Reporter, May 10, 2008
Sam Lim collects scholarships like some students amass parking
When gearing up for college, the University of Washington junior
applied for more than 75 scholarships and was awarded nearly 20,
from $50 to upwards of $70,000. That has been enough to pay the
cost of attending the UW -- and enough to make him into a sort
of scholarship guru whose nose for financial aid has made him a
hit at local high schools.
Since his own days of filling out scholarship applications, Lim
has helped others apply for hundreds more. It started with the
creation of a Web site before he arrived at the UW and grew into
a partnership with some of the university's mentorship programs.
Over two years, Lim has emerged as the UW's in-house scholarship
expert, devoting mornings and afternoons every week to helping
potential university students work through college and
scholarship applications. He gives talks at high schools,
conducts workshops and mentors out-of-state teens via e-mail.
Lim, a soft-spoken 20-year-old who walks with a slight but
telling limp, says he's just paying it forward. Ultimately, he
wants to show low-income students in high school that they, too,
can use their life experiences to help with tuition.
Indeed, the UW's "Scholarshipman" had to overcome much more than
winning admission to the UW to move from his family's home in
Spokane to Seattle two years ago. He battled a life-altering
physical disorder for 10 years, underwent brain surgery and
eventually taught himself to walk all over again.
"Scholarships are an investment in your development as a
person," Lim said in an interview. "It's an investment from an
organization in a person.
"The biggest mistake I see is people forgetting to tell their
story," he added.
That's a mistake he's trying to rectify with the students he
advises through the UW's Dream Project and Making Connections
programs -- both of which provide peer-to-peer mentorship to
On the side, Lim is working to revamp his longtime Web site (www.scholarshipjunkies.com)
into an interactive resource for high school students around the
Earlier this week, Lim greeted students near the entry of
Ingraham High School's Little Theater. He was wearing the purple
"dream team" T-shirt that he and other members of the UW's Dream
Project use to distinguish themselves from the high school
students. (After all, Lim pointed out, most of them don't look
much older than the students they're mentoring.)
Need a pen? He brought a handful. Forgot your workbook? That's
fine, but you have to bring snacks for everyone next week. Not
sure how you're going to persuade a scholarship committee to
choose you over hundreds of other applicants? Don't panic -- he
has an answer for that, too.
"Scholarship essays are really personal essays that you have to
reflect on," Lim said. "You have to know who you are."
Lim's own scholarship essay started out describing a basketball
game he played in while in third grade, a game that ended with a
sprained ankle that didn't heal quite right and a limp that
became increasingly severe. After several consultations with
doctors, he was diagnosed with dystonia, a neurological disorder
that causes muscles to involuntarily contract.
As the disorder progressed, Lim had to give up basketball for
crutches. "In fifth grade, I was kneeling at my desk -- I
couldn't sit," he said.
Then in the sixth grade, he started using a wheelchair.
"As a little kid, I had always wanted to sit in a wheelchair and
have someone push me around," Lim wrote in his essay, which
chronicled his battle with dystonia. "This time, I could not
have wanted anything less."
As the disorder progressed through his teenage years, Lim
experienced ups and downs. He recalls having to recline in the
wheelchair because sitting was impossible and that someone once
mistook his disorder for an act of contortionism.
In his freshmen year, he had a metal pump installed in his
abdomen to dispense a muscle relaxant, and that seemed to help.
But Lim's life was transformed significantly more the summer
before his senior year of high school, when he flew to San
Francisco to undergo brain surgery.
A doctor implanted electrodes in his brain and connected those
to an electrical implant in his chest. After the surgery, Lim
underwent months of physical therapy.
At his high school graduation, Lim walked across the stage to
claim his diploma -- a goal he and his father, a Spokane pastor,
shared since early in the disorder's onset.
Lim tells the details of his story effortlessly -- something
that comes with practice. He intends for the story to persuade
high school students to dig deep within themselves and find
their own story.
That's what scholarship organizations will ultimately be
investing in, he said.
"He's really open about his story, which helps a lot," Fredolyn
Millendez, a fellow Dream Project mentor, said as she and Lim
prepared to leave Ingraham this week. "That makes students feel
comfortable talking about the situations they might be in."
Lim remembers working with one student for hours over the course
of days, trying to help make her scholarship essay more
personal. Eventually, the girl e-mailed him to say she had
rewritten the essay so that it didn't describe only her
achievements -- it also described her life growing up without a
"I just want to be him -- I challenged myself with him as a
guiding light," said Lily Ly, an Ingraham student who met Lim
through the Making Connections mentorship program.
"During the springtime, when all the other mentors are like,
'Our jobs are done,' he's still there," Ly said.
With Lim's help, she has landed two scholarships and acceptance
letters from seven universities.
Inspired by his pay-it-forward attitude, Ly, 18, has started
working as a Dream Project mentor, even though she isn't through
high school. That's the kind of ripple effect Lim is hoping for.
"Now that you have the scholarships, pass it on," he said.
Affordable Colleges Foundation's Financial
SAM LIM'S SCHOLARSHIP TIPS
• Take a step forward by taking a step back (with your
scholarship essay). Don't just write about what you've done and
how you did it. Go deeper.
• If you can swap essays with someone else's application and
there's not a huge difference, it's not personal enough. Read
your essay again and ask yourself if it speaks about you and
• Think of a scholarship as a financial investment in your
potential to succeed academically, to give back to society and
to embody the core values of a scholarship organization. If you
approach your applications with this mind set, you'll have an
easier time figuring out how to best appeal to your audience.
• Most scholarships consider your track record of community
service and leadership more than your grades and test scores.
Grades are important, but not as much as what you're doing with
your time outside of school.
• Sign up for a www.FastWeb.com,
or another scholarship Web site account. Check for new
scholarship opportunities at least twice a week, and update your
profile at least once every three weeks.
• Get started early. Fill out a personal data form and give it
to teachers or counselors at least four weeks in advance for
letters of recommendation, and make sure to follow up on their
progress. Request official or unofficial transcripts in advance
• For more of Sam's tips, visit his Web site,
• To find out more about this story, visit the P-I's education
P-I reporter Amy
Rolph can be reached at 206-448-8223 or
Read her School Zone blog at
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